Friday, December 17, 2010

FTC picks for your Christmas wishlist

1. Game 7 of the 1960 World Series
This DVD is the hottest baseball release of the year. The original prints were thought to have been lost until recently, when they were found in the basement of Bing Crosby (where else?). Not only does this feature the greatest home run in World Series history, but the game itself is fantastic. Look for Yogi Berra playing left field, no strikeouts (only WS game without a K), and a young Roberto Clemente in right. Bob Prince's radio track is included as an option.

2. Tickets to Cleveland Stadium, January 2, 2011
A loss to Buffalo helped, but the Browns need to get mashed by the lowly Bungles and evil Ravens for fan interest to lower the price on these seats. Otherwise, we're banking on fierce Lake Erie weather and some help from Santa to get into this one. It's not Winter Classic hopeless, so keep it on the list for now.

3. iPod Shuffle
Infrequent-reader Mel tells us that this is a great product. Ask for it in Black & Gold for best results.

4. Penn Brewery gift certificate
Says: I know you like beer and this is classier than me giving you cash.

5. Big Ben's Beef Jerky

This has reached the status of collector's item.

6. Steelers' snuggie
Wish it was made entirely out of Terrible Towels, but then again, fleece is warmer than terrycloth.

7. a sponsorship
Don't want to be bothered by a bunch of Nicaraguan farmers sending you postcards about how great the heifer is? Still want your friends to give to a good cause in your name? Have them take out a year-long sponsorship of some horrible Pirate alum, and post on the page that he was your favorite. Recommendations: Jason Christiansen ($10); Emil Brown ($10); the entire 1998 roster ($15).

8. Hasbro Nerf N Sports VORTEX
It's nine bucks, there is no shame in asking anyone in your life to get you one of these for Christmas. Also: it whistles.

9. Tickets to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Canton is like an hour away from Pittsburgh, the tickets are $20 or so, and it's high time you paid your respects to the game's greats. Get someone you want to go with to give you a pair. Then take Nils.

10. Cleats
Kickball is right around the corner, people. And this isn't going to be another summer of chunkity ass failure. FUCKING WIN.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shoot the Puck!

Should Crosby and Malkin be linemates?

How many shots on goal does Sidney Crosby have in the past two games since Geno came back and took took a spot on his wing? If you said zero, you are correct! We all know that Crosby is a passer first and a shooter second. It doesn't matter that he made an effort to shoot more last year and ended up scoring 51 goals. He will always be a passer first and a shooter second. Does he defer to highly skilled linemates too much, or is this just a coincidence? After all, it's just two games. Let's take a look at the number of shot-less games for Sid by season:

05-06 1
06-07 4 (including 3 in a row)
07-08 2 (in 53 games)
08-09 8 (including 2 in a row)
09-10 3
10-11 2 (33 games, 2 in a row)

This doesn't really tell us much except that Sid was probably due for a shot-less game sometime soon, and that he may go through little streaks where he doesn't shoot much. The only time Sid's had an "elite winger" on his line consistently was the 07-08 playoffs, when he was flanked by Marian Hossa. He had at least one shot in all 20 playoff games, and more than one shot in 18 of those. So it's probably nothing.

It's interesting to think about though: maybe Sid performs better with guys like Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis than he does with a high scoring winger. Or maybe adding an elite winger to his line doesn't add as much production as we think it might. Perhaps that's why Ray Shero never goes after a high priced goal scorer in the off-season. Kunitz should be back for the next game, and I'm guessing Dan Bylsma will split up the two-headed monster, so we may never know for sure.

Sid Needs to Stop Whining

Here's what Crosby had to say about the goal the Pens had waived off due to goalie interference last night:

"It was close. Whether or not it affected the goalie making the save is a decision the referee had to make in a split-second. He made the call, but besides that we still could have done a better job in the third, and we paid for it."

What a baby.

Looking Ahead

We haven't gotten a Jordan Staal update in a little while, which is a bit worrisome. Assuming he gets back fairly soon, what will the lines look like? Here are my ideal lines:


Of course this assumes everyone else stays healthy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bounties? Don't talk to me about bounties!

"They’re really good pass rushers. You want to keep them away from Joe. It doesn’t matter if it’s Woodley and Harrison or anybody else.”
-RT Marshal Yanda

“Woodley and Harrison, they’re two great players. Just those two guys alone, just taking care of those two guys, you’ve got to play lights out.”
-LT Michael Oher

“They’re usually pretty good football plays. [Harrison]’s a good football player. He’s a vicious football player, and that’s what this game is about. It’s about being mean and getting after people, and that’s what he does.”
-QB Joe Flacco

“Dick LeBeau is one of the most, if not the most respected defensive innovators in football. He had a lot to do with the fire zone package, and they still run it as well as anybody. His players really respond to and like him. He’s a guy that personally I’ve always had tremendous respect for. He’s a Hall of Fame coach, player and he’s highly respected.”
-Head Coach Jim Harbaugh

"I didn't know there was a barometer with pre-game handshakes. That's good to know. I need to work on that. I'll take it as constructive criticism. It'll be an opportunity to improve my pre-game decorum and courteousness with players. I have a lot of respect for Hines Ward, obviously. I'll be looking forward to seeing him before the game now. I'll try to do better."
-Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, responding to news that Hines Ward had accused him of giving a fake handshake in the past

"We know he's going to play. This is championship football. We're expecting to see 7-Up."
-LB Terrell Suggs, on Ben Roethlisberger's injury status

“[Mike Wallace is] the fastest receiver in the league. Of course, Randy Moss is up there. Wallace is kind of deceptively fast because he gets on you later because of his long strides. His speed is definitely his biggest asset, but he’s been doing a very good job of catching the ball as well. He’s making his catches count, so we’ve got to contain him.”
-CB Chris Carr

"I think they are looking at [James Harrison] more closely than they are everybody else in the league. In the referee world, they kind of red-flagged him."
-LB Terrell Suggs

“I didn’t mean to cut you off, but I learned from my own leader on this team - and that’s Ray Lewis - the power of respect is to never disrespect. That’s first and foremost about playing the Pittsburgh Steelers. We respect them. That’s what the rivalry has all been about.”
-RB Ray Rice

“Both sides know each other very well, and I think if you do get into all of that (talking) it’s because there’s a common respect from both sides. We respect them because we know what type of game they’re going to bring, and they respect us because they know what type of game we’re going to bring. So here we go again, one of those classic battles where everything is on the line.”
-LB Ray Lewis

...and from our side...

“I don’t hate anybody. That’s a very harsh word.”
-QB Ben Roethlisberger, asked if he hates the Ravens

Friday, December 3, 2010

Some kind of backhanded eulogy for Ron Santo

Anyone who knows me, knows I don't love the Cubs. That said, there's no denying what they mean to the league, and what their history means to Chicago. I tip my hat to 'Duk over at Yahoo! Sports for being too moved by the passing of Ron Santo to adequately post.

However, upon first reading the headline about Hall of Fame worthiness, I had somewhat of a gag reflex. Ron Santo is a prime example of a borderline candidate who gets into the Hall because he died and the Veterans' Committee can't cope with death.

But then I dug a little bit deeper, and here are my findings:

Ron Santo's 'Similarity Scores' are completely misleading, and taint his HoF candidacy by association. has his list of similar batters as:
1. Dale Murphy (875)
2. Ken Boyer (874)
3. Gary Gaetti (873)
4. Ruben Sierra (865)
5. Chili Davis (865)
6. Bobby Bonilla (863)
7. Brian Downing (861)
8. Graig Nettles (860)
9. Ron Cey (853)
10. Robin Ventura (852)

Note: none of these players are currently in the Hall of Fame, nor should they be. They're also not very much like Ron Santo. Aside from Murphy, Boyer and Cey, all of these guys had journeyman careers, bouncing around from club to club. Of those three guys, only Boyer and Cey were third basemen like Santo. Boyer was his direct contemporary, and they each drew MVP votes away from each other throughout their careers (Boyer winning the award in 1964 thanks to his lead in RBI).

Where things get interesting is when we adjust our comparisons for park factors. Sure, Boyer and Cey put up similar numbers to Santo, but he wins when we put it in context.

Boyer - .810 career OPS / 116 OPS+
Cey - .799 career OPS / 121 OPS+
Santo - .826 career OPS / 125 OPS+

Is this definitive, conclusive, decisive? Far from it. I still think Ron Santo is a borderline Hall candidate, even if he's slightly better than other guys who are pretty borderline.

But let's make one more case for him.

Maybe he's the kind of guy, like a Kirby Puckett, a Craig Biggio, an Alan Trammel... who wasn't just very excellent at his job, but was a franchise face. Someone who gave his team the sort of foundation to build around.

Perhaps, if anyone, he's comparable to Yogi Berra. I know, I know, that's pretty insane sounding, but humor me.

Yogi Berra - .830 OPS / 125 OPS+, 61.9 WAR
Ron Santo - .826 OPS / 125 OPS+, 66.4 WAR

Not once do we consider Yogi to be a fringe candidate for the Hall of Fame. In fact, Bill James has him rated as the number 1 catcher of all time. What did he do that Santo didn't? 1) played catcher, 2) played for the Yankees during the most dominant of their many dominant stretches.

The second point is junk. Ron Santo never chose to not have Mickey Mantle as his center fielder. Not his fault that he played for losers.

First point is up for a ton of debate. Yogi didn't win any games for the Yankees with his defense, but he may have with his ability to handle pitchers. He also certainly didn't lose games because of his defense, and I think we can all agree that a defensively-neutral backstop that can hit is worth more than a defensively-neutral third baseman that can hit.

Back to the point.

Is it enough of a boost to Santo's case that he was very good and also a face of a franchise? I would say yes, except that the franchise icon of that period wasn't him; it was the guy to his left, Mr. Cub. Yet another similar career arch and producer, does Ernie Banks sap any of Santo's HoF mojo?

The answer: I really don't care, and neither should you.

Ron Santo had a very good career, and any discussion about his Hall of Fame credentials is going to get circular and relative and wishy-washy. With no insult to what he did as a ballplayer, he is Mr. Fringe, and a Veterans' Committee induction will say as much.

Rest in peace, Ron.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fulfilling a request from Henrik Lundqvist

Henrik Lundqvist is angry. After the Pens-Rangers game Nov. 15th in which the Pens had six power plays and the Rangers zero, Lundqvist said, "I'd like to see the penalty record the last five years in Pittsburgh. We're shorthanded so many times and it's definitely not our fault." Of course one of those ("not our fault") penalties occurred when Lundqvist threw his goal stick across the ice in disgust because his team was being penalized too much.

Lundqvist brings up an interesting question: what does the penalty record look like in Pittsburgh during the last five years? Conveniently, there have been five full seasons since the lockout. The Pens and Rangers have played each other 41 times, including playoffs, during that span. For games in Pittsburgh, the record shows (all data from that the Pens had 121 power plays, and the Rangers had 98.

Boom! Yep, that must be it. Gary Bettman's league requirement that the Pens receive extra special treatment is proven, right? Wrong. During that same span, the record at Madison Square Garden shows a power play advantage of 112-83 for the Rangers. That makes the total five year comparison 210 power plays for the Rangers and 204 for the Pens. And guess what: when you throw in the 6-0 from a couple weeks ago, the total becomes 210-210. Fascinating!

How can this be? Wasn't Sidney Crosby anointed King of Hockey when he entered the league? Aren't the Pens supposed to get every call? Don't they get eight power plays per game while the opposition gets one or two? Lundqvist is right; his team is often shorthanded in Pittsburgh. But no more often than the Pens are at MSG, unless he's trying to claim that the Rangers were shorthanded any time Wade Redden stepped onto the ice.

What if Crosby, after a particularly rough night at The Garden, lodged a similar complaint? People would be all over him, calling him a crybaby, a whiner, and worse, even though the Pens fare just as poorly at MSG as the Rangers do in Pittsburgh. I don't know if this home/away spread is typical, but it makes sense. Teams tend to play much better at home, which may lead to a positive power play differential. If Henrik Lundqvist wants to throw a fit, that's fine. I don't think we'll see any temper tantrums from Marc-Andre Fleury Monday night at MSG.

UPDATE: An examination of the data for the five full regular seasons post-lockout shows that home teams received 52% of power plays. Looking at the Pens-Rangers regular season games during this time, the Pens got 55% of the power plays at Mellon Arena while the Rangers got 57% of the power plays at MSG.

We can set up a quick hypothesis test to see if either team is getting an undue home advantage. For the Pens, we want to see if 0.55 is significantly different from 0.52 with n=189 power plays. As you can probably guess, the answer is no (p=.40).

We can do the same with the Rangers: let's test if 0.57 is significantly different from 0.52 with n=176 power plays. Again, the answer is no (p=.18). Further evidence that Mr. Lundqvist should keep his mouth shut and focus on stopping pucks.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Alright, AP... let's dance

This, over the Yahoo! feed.

PITTSBURGH (AP)—The Pittsburgh Pirates won’t offer contracts to left-hander Zach Duke and infielders Andy LaRoche and Delwyn Young, designating them for assignment in moves that effectively make them free agents.

Duke = -0.6 WAR in 2010
LaRoche = -1.5 WAR in 2010
Young = -0.6 WAR in 2010

The Pirates chose to create roster space for other players in advance of the Rule 5 draft next month.

This time we're keeping Chris Shelton.

Pittsburgh made a similar move last winter with closer Matt Capps, who went on to be one of the majors’ top relievers for Washington and Minnesota.

Here's where we get away from pithy in favor of being verbose, and it's only because we're being provoked. Look, people: a reliever is really not worth anything at all unless you consistently have some kind of lead to protect late in the game. The Pittsburgh Pirates, circa 2010 were scoring approximately 1.03 runs per game, and had zero starting pitchers throw shutouts. Had Mariano Rivera pitched for us, his save total would have committed ritual suicide out of shame. Matt Capps: Not the answer!

Also, let's just point out, all of Capps' numbers were in line with his career averages, except for HR/9, which was largely influenced by his new parks.


By not tendering them contracts, the Pirates are giving up on Duke, their former staff ace, and LaRoche, their former starting third baseman who was considered a key to the Jason Bay trade two years ago.

If we had had a pitcher win 16 games in any season dating from 1992 until present, we'd consider him a staff ace. What Zach Duke did as a rookie was phenomenal rookie luck. My dad warned me of it at the time, told me to not get too excited. He said: "Boy, you's a-throwin' way yer moneys goin' to that openin' day parade n' game. That southpaw ain't got a lick told on them other boys. 'Specially the colored ones." That was 2006. Zach Duke gave us one of the most mediocre opening day performances by any sophomore starter, ever. I had brought my Terrible Towel to cheer him on, but to no avail.

As far as LaRoche goes... eh. Whatever. Bryan Morris was the key piece in that whole deal, Bay was leaving town anyway. Now we have Pedro A. and Neil W. to play infield. Andy LaRoche is welcome to try to be claimed by anyone. Or anything.

All three were arbitration-eligible.

NEAL HUNTINGTON: Thank you for speaking with me, I know you're very busy.

ANDY LAROCHE'S AGENT: Neal, it's not a problem. I think what we have to say will--

NEAL HUNTINGTON: (signaling with a raised index finger.) Hang on there, I'm on the phone. (Reveals that he has his bluetooth headset on his other ear.) No. Sorry. Someone was talking at me ...Yes. I think you're right. No... I don't want Darryl Strawberry, I don't care how cheap he's willing to go. ...No. That's not right, that's why. Okay. Well. There are... 'people' in my office. Ciao. (To ANDY LAROCHE'S AGENT and ANDY LAROCHE.) Yes?

ANDY LAROCHE: I am happy to be ready to cash in and make MONEY!


ANDY LAROCHE'S AGENT: We would like to take you to arbitration.

NEAL HUNTINGTON: Are you eligible?


NEAL HUNTINGTON: Well. Then. In the words of Dave Coulier: you're cut.

The 27-year-old Duke was 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA as a rookie in 2005, but hasn’t been fewer than five games below .500 since then.

Part (A) had to do with a small sample size, part (B) had to do with his inability to throw harder than 89 MPH.

He was 8-15 with a 5.72 ERA last season as the Pirates lost 105 games. Before that, he was 11-16, 5-14, 3-8 and 10-15, with an ERA of at least 4.06 each season.

Yep. He really sucked. Exactly the kind of guy you don't invite to the negotiating table.

“I am truly thankful for the opportunity the Pirates have given me and genuinely enjoyed my time in Pittsburgh,” Duke said in a statement. “I understand this business decision and wish the Pirates and my friends still on the team the best of luck in the future.”

I thank you, Zach Duke. You were a brief moment of hope, and then a refreshingly cold shower of reality. Anytime I think life if looking up, I just remember the kick in the teeth you gave me for 5 straight seasons.

LaRoche was the Pirates’ starting third baseman in 2009, batting .258 with 12 homers and 64 RBIs. He lost his job to rookie Pedro Alvarez last season while hitting .206 with four homers and 16 RBIs in 247 at-bats, mostly as a bench player. He hit .152 in 2008.

So... when the AP editor was trying to come up with a title for this column, and he passed on 'LaRoche gives up on baseball', that was a wildly unethical journalistic move, right?

LaRoche, 27, and minor league pitcher Bryan Morris were considered the key players acquired by Pittsburgh in the three-team trade that sent Bay to the Red Sox and Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers. Morris has yet to pitch for the Pirates.

Bryan Morris better be decent. Otherwise this blog will turn into a place for kneejerk reactionism and anti-deficit-spending tirades.

Young, a bench player, hit .236 with seven homers and 28 RBIs in 191 at-bats. One of his season highlights was becoming the first major league player to homer off Nationals rookie Stephen Strasburg.

Have you ever met an old man who was really good at telling you about how good he was at a sport? That'll be poor Delwyn Young. And yes. He did take Strasburg deep. As if that could make up for the fact that he can't hit.

The moves with Duke and LaRoche weren’t a surprise, as it was evident late in the season that neither fit in the Pirates’ long-term plans.

However, the move to sever ties with Delwyn Young: total shock. It quite literally reanimated the swollen by seawater corpse of Roberto Clemente, so that he now lurks his namesake bridge as a saxophone playing albino. Such was the power of this roster move.

The team estimated it would cost at least $6 million to re-sign Duke for 2011.

I love baseball, and I love Pittsburgh. But if I were ever entrusted with the job of general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, I'd probably just funnel the money away to UNICEF. Seriously, though. When we're talking about a world where Zach Duke could potentially make $6,000,000, that's some immoral shit, right there.

The Pirates added right-handers Michael Crotta, Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson and Tony Watson and left-hander Daniel Moskos to their 40-man roster.

Danny Moskos!!! KHAN!!!!!!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Boys of Summer

Earlier today, on the The Tony Kornheiser Show, ESPN's Tim Kurkjian mentioned that Duke Snider is sick, and that ESPN had him write an obit the other day -- one he hopes they don't have to use anytime soon.

A lot of news organizations keep pre-packaged obituaries for certain people around, just so that they'll have them ready to go when needed. There's an old newspaper term for this, but I can't for the life of me remember what it is, though I feel like it's two words, the second of which is "list." As standard practice, the names on the list and the obits themselves are kept secret, simply as a matter of good taste. Sometimes, they're leaked. While it might seem insensitive, you can hardly fault news organizations for wanting to have something ready, just in case. As David Foster Wallace might have said, when they actually run it, they're "just being orderly."

This all got me thinking about just who's left from the original Boys of Summer -- the '55 Dodgers team that brought Brooklyn its only World Series championship.

Duke Snider - The Duke of Flatbush is the last starter left from the '55 squad.

Don Zimmer - Zim, then a 24-year-old utility infielder, put up a .731 OPS in 88 games in 1955.
George Shuba - A reserve outfielder who spent his entire seven-year career with Brooklyn. He played 44 games in the 1955 season, his last in the majors.

Bob Borkowski - A utility outfielder, Borkowski appeared in only nine games with the Dodgers after being acquired as the player to be named in a deal with the Reds for pitcher Joe Black. He saw no major league action after July 10th. Ever. Technically, he still gets a ring.

Don Newcombe - The ace of the Dodgers' staff. He went 20-5 that year, posting a 1.113 WHIP and a ridiculous 38 walks in 233.6 innings -- that's 1.5 walks per nine. Newcombe was an all-star that year, and won the Cy Young and MVP awards with a spectacular 1956 season.

Carl Erskine - Oisk was serviceable in '55, posting a 1.28 WHIP in just under 200 innings.

Ed Roebuck - The 23-year-old rookie hurled 84 innings for the Dodgers in '55, and pitched to eight batters in a single, two-inning appearance during the World Series.

Roger Craig - The future Padres and Giants manager saw 90.6 innings of work as a 25-year-old rookie in '55.

Sandy Koufax - The 19-year-old phenom went 2-2 in 41.6 innings over 12 appearances. While the stuff was there, the control wasn't. He struck out 30 and walked 28. Koufax did not pitch in the post-season that year.

Tommy Lasorda - If you'd told a Dodgers fan in 1955 that this guy would one day be one of the franchise's great figures, you'd have been tarred, feathered and thrown into a large body of water. In 1955, the second of his three big-league seasons, Lasorda pitched 4 innings in 4 games -- including one start. His ERA was a Mike Williams-esque 13.50. Not surprisingly, he didn't make the post-season roster, and was the recipient of the Dodgers' Not Invited Back award -- they sold him to the Kansas City Athletics during spring training the following year.

This has been fun. Maybe next up, we'll do the 1960 Pirates.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Smizmas Miracle

Several of us here at Free Tank Carter got our starts at The Pitt News -- one of the finest independent student newspapers in the history of the world. The Pitt News celebrated its 100th birthday this weekend during Pitt's homecoming festivities. Over the years, TPN has been the starting point for dozens of noteworthy journalists and writers. Myron Cope, Michael Chabon, Time Magazine's Scott MacLeod, internationally renowned graphic designer Joe Zeff (whose 1984 interview with Bill Fralic remains one of the most entertaining and candid pieces of collegiate sports journalism), and two of FTC's favorite curmudgeons of all-time, Murray Chass and Bob Smizik.

Chass, who maintains a blog that he insists is not a blog, has reportedly severed ties with The Pitt News after he was retroactively offended during a recent end-of-the-year banquet -- more on that later.

But the Smize? He's still creeping around. And today, we got some Jay Mariotti-style paparazzi shots of him creeping around the buffet at The Pitt News centennial brunch. Why? Because having a blog means you have an excuse to do stupid shit that you and your friends think is funny.

Potatoes? Fuck your potatoes.

Smizik hits the bacon. Hard.

Did I leave the oven on? Do I even own an oven? This is all Neal Huntington's fault!

"I'm telling you, Steve, all I do now is write a sentence or two about Brent Johnson, then just re-print someone else's story. This blog shit is great."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Playing the game the wrong way

Well, here we are again. James Harrison is once again a vicious psychopath.

The hit he put on Josh Cribbs was not only physically avoidable, but totally uncalled for. It's one thing being a vicious psychopath when playing other vicious psychopaths. If this was Cinci, I'd expect Ward to be throwing blindside blocks and for their guys to be retaliating. If this was Baltimore, I'd expect Terrelle Suggs to be picking fights, and our guys kicking right back. But this is Cleveland, and Harrison did it to their only good player (though to be fair, he also knocked out one of their scrubs a few minutes later, showing he's indiscriminately violent).

The whole thing reminds me of when the Reds threw at McCutchen's head, earlier this summer. That's not the level of play I want to see out of my teams. I have a hard enough time with one Matt Cooke; I don't need another.

Here's to suspensions for guys like Harrison. If that doesn't work, make him play a few quarters without his helmet. See how that works out.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Can we predict hockey standings?

The age old question. Each September hockey columnists give us their predicted standings. We read along, caught up in the impending arrival of a new season. We don't even mind when Scott Burnside calls a team "plucky". Then, if you're like me, you realize that these predictions aren't based on any quantitative measures and you're left a little unsatisfied. So here's the first step to finding satisfaction.

There are a few adaptations of the Bil James Pythagorean Expectation out there, but I decided to look at things a little differently. Let's look at the relationship between points and goal differential for the 2009-2010 season, then for all seasons post-lockout.

Hey, that's really linear! Using all post-lockout data, we can use a linear mixed-effects model to fit the data and come up with our predicted point values. Here's how the model predicts the 2009-2010 Eastern Conference standings.


Washington 121
Washington 121
New Jersey 103
New Jersey 103
Buffalo 102
Buffalo 100
Pittsburgh 99
Pittsburgh 101
Philadelphia 96
Ottawa 94
Boston 94
Boston 91
NY Rangers 93
Philadelphia 88
Montreal 90
Montreal 88

Ottawa 88
NY Rangers 87
Atlanta 85
Atlanta 83
Carolina 83
Carolina 80
Florida 80
Tampa Bay 80
NY Islanders 78
NY Islanders 79
Tampa Bay 77
Florida 77
Toronto 74
Toronto 74

And now the Western Conference:


Chicago 113
San Jose 113
San Jose 109
Chicago 112
Vancouver 109
Phoenix 107
Phoenix 100
Vancouver 103
Los Angeles 100
Detroit 102
Detroit 96
Los Angeles 101
Colorado 96
Nashville 100
St. Louis 93
Colorado 95

Nashville 92
St. Louis 90
Calgary 90
Calgary 90
Anaheim 88
Anaheim 89
Dallas 86
Dallas 88
Minnesota 83
Minnesota 84
Columbus 77
Columbus 79
Edmonton 68
Edmonton 62

The model does pretty well. Can we use this to predict the 2010-2011 standings? Yes, but we'd have to estimate each team's goal differential. Unlike baseball, we don't really have individual player level data (something like RAR) so it's a bit difficult to project how many goals a team will score and allow. I guess that's step 2.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

It's Thursday

I can't think of a better reason to post this picture of former Pirates first baseman Sean Casey holding a Haitian orphan with AIDS. It's good to know someone is going to Haiti to hold the orphans. That's important work.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

If you hit 40 HRs, you're allowed to lie about anything

Just ask Dante Bichette.

Or, more relevantly, Jose Bautista.

The former Pittsburgh third baseman now plays for Toronto. He believes the Pirates were ready to win several seasons ago, but management refused to spend the money to upgrade a too-young pitching staff. As a result, the Pirates kept losing and a productive everyday lineup was dismantled.

Which season could that have been?

2005: OPS+ 89, ERA+ 96
2006: OPS+ 86, ERA+ 98
2007: OPS+ 92, ERA+ 89
2008: OPS+ 92, ERA+ 83
2009: OPS+ 88, ERA+ 90
2010: OPS+ 80, ERA+ 79

See, I'm not sure it was the pitching staff that was too-young. I think you could pump as much money into the pitching, and the team would still suck. This is because it gave ABs away to guys with OPS+s of 88 while with the Pirates.

Eat your heart out, Dan Fox

Times are changin', folks. Nate Silver and his crazymath face have been bought by the New York Times. The Pirates employ the guy who came up with a metric for measuring the value of players on the base paths. Ned Colletti continues to trade away legitimate talent for 36-year-old closer wannabes.

We here at FTC have long been fans of the magical numbers parade, so we've cleared up some cap space and brought in our own statistician. Please welcome Nils to the FTC family, and afford him the same respect that you do to Franco, your mother and me (if not more, because he's real good at math).

I don't trust Bob Nutting because he's a secret Muslim who is trying to take my guns and sell the Pirates to the Vatican

Portions of the Pirates' 2007-2009 finances were leaked to the Associated Press on Sunday. And now that we've had a few days to stew in the crock pot of details and soak up that moist, spicy information we never thought we'd see, here's what we know for sure:

1) Because the leaked information only goes back to 2007 -- the year during which Frank Coonelly took over as team president -- we have minimal insight into the organization's finances, how they ran and what they looked like prior to Coonelly taking over. This means we know almost nothing about the way the team was managed during the McClatchy years, apart from how much gents like Derek Bell and Jeromy Burnitz took home. Because we don't have this information, we don't have much context with which to judge the efficacy of the Coonelly operation.

2) After reviewing the AP story, the PG's coverage, a local CPA's analysis of the books, and the financial documents themselves, it seems to me like the Pirates under Coonelly and Neal Huntington are doing exactly what they say they've been doing all along. See Franco's post below for a general outline of what we feel that strategy has been.

3) While organizations will occasionally leak their own information as a matter of PR strategy, this leak doesn't appear to have come from the Pirates. In fact, it looks like it was designed to smear the Pirates. The quick and easy message here was that the Pirates have been profitable while fielding a crappy baseball team. When you toss in that the leak was to the AP and not a preferred local media outlet, such as the Post-Gazette, and that the AP also obtained a check stub from a payment made by the Pirates to Seven Springs, the Nutting family-owned ski resort, that's only going to fuel the long-running, local speculation that the Nuttings have been filtering money from the ball club to other ventures for some time. There was just enough information leaked to make the club look bad at first glance whether they're doing things right now or not, and most of the people who will read about this won't give it more than one glance. My money is on Major League Baseball as the source of this leak, as the league would have had all these documents from the independent audits they do of each team's finances, and that it was designed as a warning shot to get the Pirates to make some kind of significant payroll increase at the major league level.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fridays with Franco

Hope you all liked it when FTC came out of the woodwork to comment on Big Ben and LeBron, because we may just pile on, regarding the woeful Rocket.

Matt makes some good points in his post, and that's why we keep him around. However, he's wrong. Clemens is worth indicting, and if found guilty, deserving of punishment.

We can all agree that Congress was absurd in spending tax payer money on steroid hearings. But beyond that, let's consider two things: 1) the US government's relationship with MLB is absurd, and 2) the steroid inquiry wasn't just about grandstanding, but also political diversion. It came about after George W. Bush mentioned the topic in the 2004 State of the Union address. Between redefining the mission of the Iraq War to no longer include WsMD, and warning Americans about the perils of gay marriage, the president took time to address performance enhancing drugs in professional sports. I remember Jon Stewart pillorying him for such a lame diversion, but lo and behold, George W. was right on the mark-- and a full year before Jose Canseco's whistle blowing.

Not to be too cynical, but our politician leaders act in accordance with news cycles, and when they anticipate a particular week, or month, or more to be potentially brutal, the typical ploy is to reinvent the news. The Bushies were getting slammed in the polls, and the news cycles were being dominated by things like Abu Ghraib. This is where the grandstanding over steroids found its groove.

But none of this has to do with Clemens.

Here's the thing: for as absurd a use of government as the 'roid hearings were, what became an even more scandalous sight was the way Congress treated one, unintended victim. You see, Roger Clemens is a friend of the GOP, a friend of George HW Bush, and a friend of George W Bush. His being caught up in all this was an unintended consequence, and as such, the republicans on the oversight committee were charged with protecting him.

But let's be even more specific here: Clemens didn't need protection from anything. The finger-wagging, grandstanding, diversion hearings were totally unenforceable. Congress called a couple famous juicers before them, got them to cry, and then let them go. Clemens got in trouble because he came back for more.

He is being accused of perjury, not because the US government wasted time and money subpoenaing his shrunken nuts, but because the US government's time and money was wasted by Clemens voluntarily coming before it, for the purpose of defaming his accuser.

The US Congress used Clemens and others as props in its PR campaign. Clemens came back and used Congress as a prop in his own PR campaign. While it's hard to respect the government institution's actions in this case, the appropriate recourse for us, The People, is to demand better; not to disrespect the institution with our own actions. No one should be allowed to use Congress as a platform to tell lies; not politicians, not citizens. If we really want to get back to believing in the institution, we must hold everyone accountable to this contract.

I have no problem agreeing that our justice system is whack, and that punishments rarely fit crimes in the cases of celebrities or athletes. But let's step back from all the goofiness, and just look at this for what it is: a man voluntarily testified in front of Congress, after being advised by the panel to either not testify, or tell the truth exactly. It's now clear that he may have lied under oath, and therefore it is reasonable to charge him with obstruction of justice and send him away for about a year. Yes, it's victimless, and that's why we're saying he shouldn't get the chair. Yes, it's lying under oath in front of a very high institution, and that's why we're saying he should get some kick in the ass.

That's my take on it.

Moving on...

Let's give Neal 'real deal' Huntington a shout-out. Three years ago, he took over this mess of a baseball franchise. His plan was unpleasantly long-term, and loaded with opportunities for Pirates' ownership to shirk paying up. The plan was outlined like this:
1) Cut everyone in the majors who makes above minimum wage; we're terrible, and don't need to spend money to keep losing. (DONE)
2) Use the money saved by the major league purge to relaunch our development program; oversees recruitment and domestic scouting. (DONE)
3) Infuse unprecedented cash into the draft, so that we never have to fear negotiating with the best player on the board. (DONE)*
4) Spend big bucks at the major league level when the good players arrive from the minors. (PENDING)
5) Win. (PENDING)
6) Trade good players for a net growth in our farm system, so we not only have enough good players to win, but also good players to deal for a third generation of prospects. (PENDING)

Part 6 sucks, but not as much as being stuck in parts 1-4. And truthfully, there is something neat about the trade-to-replenish model. A league without a salary cap is an unfair game, and there is certainly an art to winning it.

Anyway, I mention all this because this past week marked a big moment in this plan. No one was going to doubt that the ownership would be fine with part 1; as Pirates fans, we expect our front office to be cheap. And part 2 is the kind of under-reported thing that takes a while to gauge. What happened this past week was that Neal Huntington gave us a sign that he has every intention to fulfill his promise on part 3. He signed the big two pitchers in this draft, gave them boatloads of money, and then continued to spend on the lower rounds. Obviously we're still waiting to see if ownership will keep its promise to lock up this talent once it develops, but knowing that they came this far is a big deal.

Our congratulations to Huntington is still pending, but our faith in him is renewed for another while.

Let's project our psychological hangups onto athletes!

Taking a break from the warm and fuzzy uncertainty that the New York Times apparently likes to call my "emerging adulthood" (read: applying for jobs I will never get and realizing that society has ostensibly no idea what to do with me or anyone else my age), it's time to go back and hit the ol' blog.

Yesterday, Roger Clemens was indicted on six counts of perjury. According to the Altoona Mirror's Cory Giger, Clemens belongs in jail. I must preface this diatribe with the disclosure that I've known Cory for several years, that I hold him in the highest possible regard as both a friend and mentor, and that I think he's damn good at his job. In this case, though, he just happens to be comprehensively wrong.

It's my belief Roger Clemens lied to Congress about using steroids, and now he deserves to have his you know what thrown in the slammer.

Many stuck-up, ridiculously entitled, mega-rich professional athletes think they can get away with anything. Clemens is finding out that isn't the case.

Au contraire, mon frère. That is absolutely the case. Anyone who has ever covered college or professional sports for any good length of time has stories about athletes doing despicable things for which, because of their status as athletes, they're never made to answer and for which they are never held accountable. The volume of what the general public still does not find out about the secret lives of athletes is astonishing.

The superstar former pitcher was indicted Thursday on perjury and other charges. Clemens has vehemently denied using performance-enhancing drugs, but come on, everybody knows he did it, and several people close to him have testified to it.

We have something in this country called due process. It's in the Constitution or the Bible or the Articles of Confederation, or some such historically yellowed piece of paper. Not that I disagree with Cory's assessment of Clemens' guilt. I think he's guilty of using performance enhancing drugs, and I think he's guilty of having lied about it. But we, as a nation, have a more successful track record of maintaining separation of the courts of law and public opinion than we do in keeping the balance between church and state. That's why you don't typically see prosecutors utilizing the "come on, everybody knows he did it," strategy.

I also think that the volume and severity of truly criminal activity we let slide in this country is so great that trying to send Roger Clemens to jail for perjuring himself during the most useless set of Congressional hearings since Joseph McCarthy tried to have everyone in Hollywood exiled to the Urals would make just about as much sense as trying to prosecute a fourth grader for cheating on a spelling test.

Clemens looked washed up a few times in his career, only to miraculously bounce back and become nearly untouchable several times. Yeah, like that happened naturally and with only hard work.

Stop with the charade, Roger. You're guilty, you know it, you lied about it under oath and now you deserve to go to jail.

There's just so much that's wrong with this that I hardly know where to begin.

1. We don't know with any degree of certainty the effect that steroids had on baseball during the "steroid era." This is true of hitting, but even more so of pitching. Any fan of baseball, any writer, pundit, or conscious observer who claims with certainty that steroids make you better at baseball is just as dangerous to the integrity of the game as a single-issue voter in a polling place is to the integrity of our political rhetoric. Eric Walker's "Steroids, Other 'Drugs' and Baseball" should be required reading for anyone who wishes to keep having this conversation. The range of potential realistic answers to the question of how steroids influenced baseball performance begins with "it is almost impossible to know" and ends with "not very much."

2. For whatever we think we know about how steroids may have aided hitters -- and we don't know too much -- we know even less ab out how steroids may have aided pitchers. It might be possible to know more about the impact PEDs had at the plate than on the mound because we have a working knowledge of the physics of hitting. Ted Williams' "The Science of Hitting," which remains an industry standard on the subject, reveals that bat speed is the most important factor in the equation. One or two extra miles per hour in bat speed contribute much more to the distance of a batted ball than one or two extra miles per hour on the speed of a given pitch. This isn't conjecture. It's physics. I guess this is all just a roundabout way of bringing up the fact that throwing hard was not what helped Clemens' longevity, nor was it his massive, allegedly enhanced physique.

From his rookie year in 1984 through the fascinatingly entertaining 1998 season, Roger Clemens had maybe two or three down seasons, and even in those seasons (1984, 1993, and 1995) he was still an above average major league pitcher. During the entirety of his career in Boston and Toronto, Clemens averaged a 2.95 ERA, a 1.143 WHIP, a 151 ERA+, and 6.2 WAR per season. That's really good. And that takes him from age 21 to age 35. Between the ages of 35 and 44, the New York and Houston years, Clemens predictably declined. He averaged a 3.48 ERA, a 1.231 WHIP, a 129 ERA+ and 4.0 WAR per season. So he declined with age, as all players do.

But even IF steroids have some positive impact on performance, and even IF everyone during that era of baseball was juicing, and even IF you feel everything is tainted and your childhood innocence is ruined, none of that changes the fact that Roger Clemens was astonishingly good for an unreal length of time, and that not once between 1985 and his final year in 2007 did Clemens ever rate as a below-average pitcher. At his worst, he was merely a league-average pitcher. Were you to eliminate the steroid question from the equation entirely -- wipe the whole slate clean for every single pitcher -- Clemens would still have stood out, and that's impossible to deny.

3. He deserves to go to jail? No. He doesn't.

In 1998, Rams' defensive end Leonard Little drank too much at a birthday party, got behind the wheel of a car, and ran over and killed a woman. He got four years probation and 1,000 hours of community service. He was arrested in 2004 for driving while intoxicated, failed three field sobriety tests, and even told police he had been drinking. The charge was later dropped. Leonard Little deserves to be in jail.

Donte Stallworth was legally drunk in 2009 when he ran over an off-duty construction worker with his Bentley. He served 24 days of a 30-day jail sentence, got 1,000 hours of community service and eight years probation. Donte Stallworth deserves to be in jail.

The entire leadership of British Petroleum, from the top on down to the lackeys who do cost/value and risk/reward assessments have raised the ceiling for criminal negligence in allowing the single largest man-made ecological disaster in history. We are going to be feeling catastrophic effects from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for years, and in a plethora of different ways. The BP people belong in jail.

Roger Clemens lost a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey at a Congressional sleepover/circle jerk. Roger Clemens does not belong in jail.

There are consequences in life, and many spoiled-rotten athletes think they are above reproach and will never have to deal with repercussions when they screw up.

They think this because everything about they way we treat our athletes in this society encourages them to think this.

And please, stop with the whole "Congress is only on a witch hunt" argument, or "Congress has better ways to spend its time and money." You want to gripe about the government, fine, but that's not what this is about.

But here's the thing: that's exactly what this should be about. If Roger Clemens is two things, he's an incredible ballplayer and he's not very bright. The reason perjury and obstruction of justice are offenses worthy of incarceration is because the people who wrote federal law were under the deluded impression that any societal issue worthy of its own Congressional hearings would be important. The Congressional hearings on steroid use in baseball were not only thoroughly unimportant, they were straight up unnecessary, political grandstanding. Using banned substances to enhance performance, while a crime, is a crime without victim. I don't give a damn about Roger Clemens one way or the other, but taking steroids and then lying about it isn't nearly as bad as having an extramarital affair with a 15-year-old girl. If you want to make it about that, we can make it about that. Otherwise, there is no getting around the fact that these hearings were about anything other than an ill-conceived play for Oversight to expand its political clout, and even that descended into partisan bickering.

Lock him up for a year or so. Teach him and every egomaniacal athlete who thinks he or she can get away with anything a lesson.

Roger Clemens is absolutely an egomaniac. He's a dumb, 48-year-old egomaniac. And it's precisely because of this that you're not going to accomplish a damn thing by putting him in jail for a year. This is a guy who, since he was about 18, has lived a completely different reality than people like you or me. He's spent 40 or so years walking around on a pedestal. It is just as utterly pointless to try to teach Roger Clemens a lesson or make an example out of him as it would be to try to have a heart-to-heart with Antonio Cromartie about parenting or discuss Dadaism with Matthew Stafford.

One phrase Cory used to describe these athletes he dislikes so strongly was "ridiculously entitled." I agree that a lot of athletes have absurd senses of entitlement, but that's because we do nothing to discourage that behavior and everything to encourage it.

And with regard to the issue of entitlement: it needs to disappear from the psyche of the modern sports fan. I will concede that some athletes are bad people. But at the same time, they don't owe us anything. We plop down all kinds of money and we feed the fire. I'm beyond sick of the "role model" debate. Good people are role models, bad people are not. An athlete who happens to be a genuinely good dude, say, Troy Polamalu, is perfectly fine as a role model. Ideally, as a sports loving society, we'd reach a point where even young fans were able to understand the difference between the athletic performance and the off-field conduct of a figure like Clemens. In most cases, it's possible to admire the performance completely apart from the person. That part? That's on us.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

More baseball; football coming soon

According to the AP, Ozzie Guillen doesn't think people are giving the White Sox enough acclaim. According to the standings, the White Sox are 63-49 and tied for first place in baseball's weakest division. What the fuck do you want, Ozzie? A parade?

Also in baseball: Fight! Yours Truly's campaign to breed bile in the NL Central seems to be working.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A story and a photograph

Seeing the Pirates get the crap kicked out of them is nothing new. In fact, some would say it's getting old.

What was new for me, when I saw them get beat up in Denver, was that I was rewarded for it... in the form of tacos!

You see, every time the Rockies score 7 runs at home, every ticket holder is gifted 4 crunchy Taco Bell tacos for the price of $1. (Of course, the way I was looking at it, the deal was really more about Paul Maholm allowing those 7 runs than it was about the Rockies offense. I mean, after 18 years of misery, I feel like we have to have earned something.)

Anyway. I'm stoked about this. Sure, I'm leaving the stadium feeling a little depressed that I can't go anywhere without watching the Pirates lose, but whatever: I had scored some tacos.

All I remembered from the scoreboard announcement was that I'd get to redeem my ticket the following day, and something about six o'clock. The next day rolls around, I'm heading out of town around 1pm, but before I leave, I pop into the Bell. Turns out the promotion is only good from four to six o'clock. Blah! Somehow I persevere and pay full price for a couple of tacos (I think it came out to like $2.80something). I get in the car, fully intending to book it for Utah and leave my tacos behind.

But then the Rockie Mountains happen, and my car turns into a 1992 Ford Taurus. I spend all afternoon chugging along at low speeds, from one redneck service station to another, trying to keep the engine alive at three miles above sea level. Finally, I pull over for dinner in this charming little Deliverance-esque township, where the front page of the evening newspaper is about a woman who had the good instincts to play dead when a bear started chewing off her arm.

This place, my friends, was no place for humans to be.

Anyway, I found myself there because I saw on the highway signs that they had a Taco Bell. However, as my car crawled off the exit ramp, I realized what time it was - 6:08 pm. The minutes ticked even further away as I pumped gas and contemplated: Do I go in there and cry? Just let it all hang out? The raw emotional state of driving for four days in a row with no end in sight? The trauma of automotive failure in bear country? The 18 years of shitty baseball?

Believe me, I had the tears ready.

Ultimately though, I chose not to. I kept the ticket, and some day, when the Pirates break .500, I still won't have my tacos. So it goes for Bucco fans everywhere.

Speaking of fans-- guess who I saw at the game...

That's right, it's FTC's old friend, Salman Rushdie. I would have been in the picture with him, but someone had to hold the camera (and it sure as hell wasn't going to be a Coloradoan).

In conclusion: down some tacos, up some Rushdie. Success.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Can you say that?

After Thursday's game, I can say I've seen Paul Maholm lit-up on both sides of the Mississippi. We're done with California teams this year, so I won't be able to say I've seen it in three different time zones. But you know what... someday.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Spot the Yinzers!

Outside the stadium, as I was buying a ticket, a young guy in a #21 jersey came up to me to seek validation. You see, I had what we in the business call "street cred[ibility]" because I was donning not only my Pirates hat, but my Super Bowl XL commemorative Troy Polamalu jersey. Anyway, the guy proudly showed off his Clemente shirt, but then admitted he was wearing a Rockies' shirt under it.

THIS is not a Yinzer, folks. It's just a dude who owns some Pirates gear and wore it because it was topical, not because he gets what it means. I wanted to ask the guy how many dangerous, relief missions he went on to earthquake shattered countries, but he went into the stadium before I got a chance.

Moving on.

I thought this kid had it figured out:

Upper deck, sitting with his family members, none of whom are wearing Pittsburgh gear. Good for him, reminding Denver that Jake Plummer sucked.

(I have a picture of the kid when he turned around, but I'm not sure we're allowed to post child faces on this site. Matt: please clarify.)

Also, there was this guy.

Turns out Heath gets pretty good seats, because this was taken right behind home plate.

In conclusion, as I was making the losers' walk back to my car, a young pacific-islander girl on a bike shouted "Hey! Polamalu!" I turned around, ready to explain in disappointing detail that I was not in fact Troy Polamalu, but what I saw from her was just a very cheerful smile. Sometimes it's not about winning at baseball, I realized; it's about being a tastelessly obsessive fan of the whole package, and just enjoying the fact that there are other crazy people like you out there.

That said, someday we're going to win at baseball.


Monday, August 2, 2010

This is Ubaldo Jimenez

He didn't need any help from the Pirates to be a dominant pitcher that day. Likewise, the Pirates didn't need any help from Ubaldo Jimenez to be completely terrible. They both just kind of went out of their way on helping each other, I guess.

I distinctly remember liking how few curveballs Jimenez threw. It was an afternoon of 97-99 MPH fastballs, with an occasional 89 MPH change for variety (coincidentally, 89 was where Maholm's heat was sitting). Anyway, I appreciated that Ubaldo felt like his time was being wasted by our bullshit team, and that he in turn didn't want to waste my time by throwing junk. He got out there and just poured it into the zone. Someday we'll have a guy like that.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

FTC on location

I went to a Pirates-Rockies game this past week. During the next couple of days, I'm going to live-blog my memories of the experience.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Follow up...

Joey Votto takes things a step further, reports the AP. Apparently he hates Cubs' fans, and why not? They're rich, white people who think their shit team is the best thing in the world. Keep it coming, Votto!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I can get behind this

The always excellent Big League Stew over at Yahoo! Sports is reporting that Joey Votto of the Reds snubbed All-Star teammate and hero, Marlon Byrd, because Byrd plays for the Cubs.

While I agree that the All-Star game should bring enemies together as respected friends, I enjoy this particular tiff simply because I don't think there's enough bile in the NL Central. There's historic rivalry between the Cubs and Cards, but not much bad blood between those teams and Cinci, Pittsburgh. You'd think that after 128 years of playing one another, these teams could hate each other a bit more.

Good for Joey Votto for trying to stir things up. Whoops! I mean... fuck him, for being a Red.

THAT's what I want to see next time the Cardinals come to town.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fix Baseball Now! (part 1)

Sitting in my mom's basement. Watching ESPN2's coverage of the Future's Game happening right now in Anaheim. The way it's formatted, you have a bunch of young, minor league pups from all over baseball, split into two teams based on their national heritage. If they're USofA born, they get to play on the home team; if they're 'spics, 'nips, or - worst of all - imposters, then they get to play on the away team. So basically it's Vandy vs. the 2015 MLB All-Stars.

It's currently 2-1 USA, top of the third. I haven't run the numbers, but I'm guessing that both teams have about an equal amount of future talent on them. Here's the problem: franchises don't have equal access to all of these players. I'm referring to the MLB Amateur Entry Draft, which only covers USA-born prospects. This hurts bad, small-market teams whose only hope is to rebuild through strong drafts.

Remember that time when the Penguins sucked? They did a good thing by sucking as hard as they did, because it netted them some very high draft picks, five years in a row. With those picks they drafted a decent blue liner, a franchise goalie and three of the best centres in the history of ice. Now imagine if the NHL's entry process was designed like baseball's (I can't believe I'm suggesting that the NHL is a better run institution than something else): the best players the Penguins could have drafted in those years would have been Jim Slater, Ryan Suter, Drew Stafford, Jack Johnson, and Phil Kessel. Not terrible, but not quite Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Fleury, etc. If the NHL treated foreign born prospects the same way MLB does, those guys would have entered the league as free agents, and the highest bidders would have won their services, regardless of team need. This wouldn't have completely deprived the then, talent-starved Pens of quality prospects, but it would have seriously watered-down the rebuilding effort.

This is how it goes in Bud Selig's America.

In order for a team to reverse its fortunes, it has to be drafting in the top slots for many years in a row (see: Tampa Bay). After the top-3, there's a dramatic drop-off in talent. This means that consistent losers like the Royals, Orioles, Nationals and Pirates are actually vying with each other for the worst record, so as to avoid the unfortunate position of sucking a lot, but not enough to be compensated.

Of course, not all small-market teams are in the same boat. The Florida Marlins and San Diego Padres have a distinct advantage, being able to snooze through the draft and recruit top foreign talent based on their geographic location. West Coast teams have a similar edge when it comes to signing Japanese players.

Then there are your big-market clubs. They're able to beat the draft in two distinct ways. The most obvious method is by snaking high end foreign talent with fat signing bonuses. But, beyond that, they sneak their way into the draft by jettisoning major leaguers. Let's look at the case of Jason Bay.

First thing to consider is that while there's a huge drop-off in talent between the top-3 draft picks and the rest of the first round, there's still some quality to be found in the bottom of the 1st, top of the 2nd. Not A+ talent, but quality. Now about Jason Bay...

He was very good for the Pirates for a number of years, but he was clearly approaching his peak, with his next contract due to be signed on the eve of his decline. Huntington had three choices: 1) trade him for prospects; 2) let him play out the remaining 1.5 years of his contract and try to sign an aging outfielder with bad knees for way more than he was worth; 3) let him play out the remainder of his contract, then let him leave and get a compensatory draft pick at the bottom of the first round. Obviously, the best move was to trade him for prospects, which is what Neal did. The Red Sox got him, and as a team in contention, got 1.5 fantastic seasons out of Bay, then let him walk. And because they didn't sign him, MLB awarded them an additional first-round draft pick. So the Pirates got "a,b,c" in prospects, while the Red Sox got a year and a half of "A+" major league talent, and a compensatory "a" prospect. Does the small market team get cheated in this system? No. But. The "buyer" team's losses are subsidized handsomely by the league.

Let me give you an even crazier example of a team buying their way back into the draft. Those same Red Sox that let Bay walk in exchange for a draft pick, also let Billy Wagner go free this past offseason. Billy Wagner was obtained from the Mets for a pile of junk and money. Billy Wagner was completely injured in 2009. He pitched a total of 13.2 innings for the Sox. They paid him a portion of a $10 million contract, just so that they could let him go. And because they took his salary off the Mets' books, and then "weren't able" to retain his services, MLB awarded Boston yet another first round pick.

So, because of this crazy system, the hard luck Bucs weren't able to draft twice, before Boston had 3 picks; the Angels had 5 picks; the Cardinals had 3 picks; the Tigers had 3 picks; the Blue Jays had 4 picks; the Astros had 3 picks; the Rangers had 3 picks; the Rays had 3 picks; and the Rockies had 2 picks.

Imagine if this happened in the NFL. Imagine if the Lions, Browns, and Rams got their elite picks, and then had to sit back and watch all the playoff teams scoop up multiple players before they were allowed to draft again. Yes, there are compensatory picks in the NFL, but not to that ridiculous of a degree; certainly not in the first round. Bill Belichick has become a master of trading great players on the decline for high picks; I hate him for this, but generally love watching the draft unfold around a guy like him. It's cool when a lone, mad genius comes along with a stockpile of options. It's not interesting when this scenario is played out by a third of the league. It's not cool when teams are gifted picks, as opposed to having to trade for them.

Okay, so let's sum up the problems with the MLB amateur entry draft.
1. It's not international. This deprives bad, small-market teams of access to half of the talent pool; devalues the importance of international scouting; overvalues the price of mediocre, white kids who throw 88 mph fastballs with their left arms; and robs the draft of being potentially interesting for fans.
2. The draft is rife with a ridiculous number of compensatory picks.

Here's how we fix things:
1. Make the draft international. Why not? What's a single good reason for why it can't be?
2. Stop giving out free, high round, compensatory picks. That is, if a team signs a free agent who is 28-years-old or younger, they should have to give a pick to the player's former team. If the guy is an All-Star, that should be a first round or second round pick. If the guy is a bum, it should be a 50th round pick. If the guy is 35-years or older, then the pick should suck. That simple.

Fix baseball now!

**Oh god, Gorkys Hernandez playing in CF. Smashes into the wall making a catch. Sustains a hairline fracture in his shoulder, which we won't hear about for another two weeks.**